Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tragedy and the Role of Games

Monday was a bad day for me, some personal issues, some academic, and the mix of gray and wet that seems to be a permanent resident of the skies over state college. However, no matter how bad my day was, it cannot be compared to the tragedy which had occurred on the Virgina Tech campus. Such a senseless act has much in the academic world feeling empathy and grief over the loss. Today things have begun to surface in the media, on who this killer was, and why he was so disturbed. But, before these facts had come to light, their was much speculation as to why this occurred.

And as many other events with violence in a school setting, Video Games became part of this speculation. One can see the ranting of Dr. Phil or Jack Thomson that in reality they are playing the blame game that TV, Movies, and most likely very media had to endure on the onset of its popularity. The discussion of violent content in games is an important one, but it is not one to discuss here, in reference to this tragedy.

As I reflect on this tragedy I began to wonder about the potential for games to be used to help people deal with complex emotional problems in their lives. I know from personal experiences that games can give deep emotional experiences, especially through drama. While many would cite the death of Aeris in FFVII as such an experience, I had one earlier, in a lesser known game, EcoQuest.

EcoQuest was a game by Sierra in the hey days of point and click adventures. It involved a suba driving son of a marine Biologist and his dolphin friend as they find a toxic waste dump in the ocean. At the climax of the game, your dolphin companion is captured by the games villain. I can clearly recalled feeling so sad by the turn of the plot (I was young at the time, I doubt it have the same effect on me now) that I turned off the computer and did not return to the game for a number of weeks. When I did return, I continued the quest and much to my relief, saved the sidekick.

What I mean to point out is this, while the plot may have been simple, for me that game helped me learn a small tiny bit about loss. I think Interactive games are a great place to continue such work. I know of some projects which are working on just such games. Thier is "Earthquake in Zipland" which deals with the loss a child feels during a parent's divorce. Thier is also "Darfur is Dying" which shows gamers the loss of ones family just trying to live day to day. Their are also various other serious games that are presented in The Serious Games Summit.

Finally, I know that some out their would point out that if games can have an emotional influence, they can provoke violence. While I can't counter this directly, I personally have not seen in any of these violent outbust evidence to prove Video games drove them. In each of these cases the killer were extremely troubled by the world around them and sought out violence in all media. As a fan of games, and as a potential academic, I see a responsiblity to also see what good games can do, as well as being a fun distraction. Publish

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